Welcome to 2021, and may it be a better year for you than 2020. We wish that for everyone!

This is our first MNC Wednesday of the new year, and it celebrates the bicentennial of the United States on this historic day. It’s a fun exercise to go back in history and right some major wrongs, and we continue this weekly fun once again after our brief holiday hiatus.

That being said, on with the fireworks …

The 1976 MNC: It so often comes down to SOS, and that’s why we’re here

Here is the Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results:

1. Pittsburgh: 12-0-0 — W, Sugar, 27-3
2. USC: 11-1-0 — W, Rose, 14-6
3. Michigan: 10-2-0 — L, Rose, 6-14
4. Houston: 10-2-0 — W, Cotton, 30-21
5. Oklahoma: 9-2-1 — W, Fiesta, 41-7
6. Ohio State: 9-2-1 — W, Orange, 27-10
7. Texas A&M: 10-2-0 — W, Sun, 37-14
8. Maryland: 11-1-0 — L, Cotton, 21-30
9. Nebraska: 9-3-1 — W, Bluebonnet, 27-24
10. Georgia: 10-2-0 — L, Sugar, 3-27

The independent Panthers—long forgotten in this space since the earliest columns we did last spring—are the top option as the only team to put up a perfect season. The Trojans are in the discussion, too, of course. We can include the Cougars (SWC) and the Sooners (Big 8) as conference champions, even though they have multiple losses.

That’s it for the poll list above, and in terms of other schools, Rutgers posted a perfect 11-0 record despite not being invited to a bowl game. Also, San Diego State finished 10-1 with a single-digit loss to Brigham Young, but the Aztecs also got shut out of bowl season.

Generally, Rutgers and SDSU do not have the SOS to compete with the big boys in this season’s analysis. Therefore, these are the 4 finalists and their respective SOS ratings, after our topical analysis and paring down of the pretenders:

  • Pittsburgh: 12 Division I-A opponents, 4.97 SOS rating, 56th of 137
  • USC: 12 Division I-A opponents, 7.84 SOS rating, 20th
  • Oklahoma: 12 Division I-A opponents, 8.91 SOS rating, 14th
  • Houston: 12 Division I-A opponents, 6.49 SOS rating, 39th

Voters at the time often went by straight record, which we know the flaws of doing now—and they really should have known then, too. It’s clear to see the Panthers with the worst SOS of the finalists, and remember our standard concept of 10 spots in SOS rankings being enough to wipe out a loss in a W/L record comparison.

So … Oklahoma has the SOS to surpass the Panthers, even with two losses and a tie. USC easily has the SOS to overcome its one loss in comparison to Pitt. Only the Cougars do not have enough SOS power to leap over the Panthers, so we can narrow this down to USC and Oklahoma rather simply that way for a head-to-head final comparative analysis.

In the end, the Trojans have the SOS and the record balance to stay ahead of the Sooners: It’s easy enough to shed Oklahoma’s tie based on its SOS edge on USC, but the extra loss suffered by the Sooners seals the deal for the Trojans here—the school’s sixth MNC in our estimation, tying USC with Ohio State for the current lead.

Congratulations to the 1976 USC Trojans, the mythical national champion!

Check in every Wednesday for a new feature on the mythical national championship in college football on The Daily McPlay.